December 17, 2001
Homework That Heals - Movement
When we consciously enter therapy and growth, many of us are more deeply divided inside than we know. This inner division affects our perception so that we see and think of things in divisive, separated ways. We will often think of our problems as just emotional, just behavioural, just physical, or just spiritual. We have a hard time seeing a problem as a holistic issue that bridges all these categories.
When is an emotional issue not physical? Or a physical issue not emotional? Any disjointedness in the system will affect all parts, because the parts are never really separate.
This is where movement comes in.
Animals, by definition, are moving, or animated things. Humans are animals. That is what makes us different than plants. In fact, if we are not allowed to be what we are and if we don't move and express ourselves, we get ill - emotionally and physically.
Look at what our lives have become. We sit in front of the TV; we sit and watch sports and concerts; we sit and stare at the computer; we sit in cars; we sit at school; we sit at work. We have houses full of labour-saving devices that have one purpose - to keep us from moving.
Movement allows all the systems of the body to flow and circulate. Oxygen, water, and nutrients flow in and toxins flow out. Muscles flex, tension is relieved - and body feelings start to wake up.
Typical exercise, however, can cause further problems. When muscles are tense, they are chronically contracted, or pulled tighter and shorter. If we exercise absent-mindedly and stretch them too suddenly, they pull and tear, causing them to contract even more to protect against further injury.
So how do we approach movement in a caring way? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Horizontal movement. When wild animals and most children wake up, they leisurely squirm around and stretch. They don't follow any pre-conceived plan. They follow their feelings.
Any time of day that is convenient, find a spot on a carpeted floor or a mat and lie down on your back. Gently let yourself move the way your body wants to. You may find yourself twisting and turning through many unusual poses. Let yourself breathe and make sounds if it feels correct. There is no right or wrong way to do this, as long as you don't hurt yourself. Be careful not to push yourself and go for the "big stretch," or the "big crack" spinal adjustment. You may pull something if you do. Pay close attention to the stretch of the muscles and be gentle with them. As you move they will warm up and lengthen as much as they can.
2) Standing movement. Stand with feet comfortably apart, knees slightly bent. Keep your eyes relaxed or closed if you wish. Now let your torso and arms sway and move however they please. You can bend your knees, but be careful not to go too deep if it will hurt. Let yourself breathe fully and let sounds happen if they want to. Gentle, repetitive movements are fine. I often have an urge to go through a variety of undulating movements that remind me of moving plants and animals. See if you can allow yourself freedom from self-judgment or trying to look graceful and "creative." In fact, your body may want to move in very strange ways! Let it if you can.
3) Stepping movement. Find a spot with enough space to move around. Let yourself gently take steps and move in whatever patterns your body needs. You may shake, shiver, wobble, dip, flail, twitch, hop, dance - whatever. Please keep in mind to follow the inner sensations - the tension that wants to be shaken out, the stiffness that wants to stretch, the compelling urge do something childlike and goofy. It can be both profound and hilarious. Be in your body if you can, and be careful not to pull muscles or hurt your joints.
4) Walking. Walking is the most human activity of them all. Without any specific exercise goals, get out and walk - every second day, or as much as your body and time restraints can allow. Dress appropriate to the weather, wear supportive shoes, and keep your destinations safe. Walking in nature around non-neurotic living things like grasses, trees, and birds can be quite effective in awakening your own healing awareness. You can also augment the healing potential of the walking by using meditative attention.
5) Sports, exercise, and dance. These common forms of movement are fine as long as you don't push your body to injury. I saw a hilarious "demotivational" poster recently of a boxer being socked in the head, with a caption that stated "Pain isn't always gain." How true. Be careful that your body doesn't become abused by some neurotic drive.
6) Formal meditative movement. Formal practices such as Tai Chi, Yoga, and Chi Kung are also a safe way to get moving.
7) Sit less, move more. Do what you can to find moving alternatives to all your seated habits - watching TV, sitting for hours in the same position at work, or driving down the block to the store.
8) Increase water intake. You are a river. A moving system needs water to keep things flushing through.
• When you are moving, try to allow your attention to stay right with the muscles, the skin, the joints, the organs, and the bones. Let your attention rest right there and let yourself be fascinated with the sensations. Be interested in yourself.
• I suggest no music because we often use music as a distraction. If you can't manage that, set the volume very low. When we exercise with music in our ears, we leave our body alone - like a parent ignoring a child. If we are distracted, and the body is being pushed to injury, we aren't "there" to notice it.
• Be aware of your feelings. The body holds memories of emotional pain. When we focus on the body, these traumas can come up in waves of sadness, fear, anger, or a host of other disturbing feelings. One of the reasons movement is helpful to the healing process is that these blockages will rise for resolution. This is only a problem if we do not have the support or assistance necessary to deal with this in a healthy way.
If feelings become overwhelming, stop what you're doing and find ways to get proper support or attempt to soothe and distract yourself in non self-destructive ways.
• Respect your muscles. They are groups of long cells that are attached to different parts of your bones. When we stretch a muscle, the cell fibres can only lengthen so far before they start to tear and become damaged. They will lengthen more as they move and warm up. Beware of jerky, bouncy, sudden movements. These can cause sudden pulls and damage.
Often people stretch their muscles too far by pushing themselves according to a mental ideal. This can happen in yoga, for example, if we try to push to a certain pose that we or the instructor feel we "should" complete. This is mental tyranny. If you go into a stretch and your attention is on the feeling in the muscles, you will notice the muscles' limits. Go as far as you can and stop. Ease up when your muscles want to ease up. Always respect those little cells - they are you. If you do this regularly, with self-respect and without the self-flagellation of competitive ideals, your muscles will lengthen as far as they will naturally allow.
Animals, by definition, move when they are alive. They sit motionless when they are dead.
We can go either way.
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Homework That Heals - Introduction